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New Zealand legend Sean Fitzpatrick discusses Alun Wyn Jones-Maro Itoje Lions captain debate

New Zealand legend Sean Fitzpatrick has endorsed Alun Wyn Jones to lead the British and Irish Lions in South Africa this summer, stating ‘he’s just a classic leader of men, isn’t he?’

Head coach Warren Gatland will announce his 36-man squad on Thursday, with 35-year-old Jones tipped to lead the team on his fourth tour with the Lions.

And not many are more experienced or better-versed in the traits of a successful leader on the international stage than the former All Blacks captain Fitzpatrick.

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones has been tipped to lead the Lions in South Africa this summer

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones has been tipped to lead the Lions in South Africa this summer

Head coach Warren Gatland will announce his 36-man squad for the tour on Thursday

Head coach Warren Gatland will announce his 36-man squad for the tour on Thursday

Head coach Warren Gatland will announce his 36-man squad for the tour on Thursday

Sean Fitzpatrick, chairman of Laureus (pictured), weighed in on the big calls for the Lions

Sean Fitzpatrick, chairman of Laureus (pictured), weighed in on the big calls for the Lions

Sean Fitzpatrick, chairman of Laureus (pictured), weighed in on the big calls for the Lions

Having earned 92 caps for New Zealand, Fitzpatrick led his country in 1993 in a three-match series against the Lions and also captained a star-studded squad, including rugby icon Jonah Lomu, at the 1995 World Cup.

The former Hooker weighed in on the tough decisions facing Gatland for the highly-anticipated Test series later this year.

‘Alun Wyn Jones’s form of late would suggest that Gats (Gatland) would go with him. Gatland knows him as well as anyone,’ Fitzpatrick, who is chairman of Laureus, explained ahead of their 2021 Sports Awards this weekend.

‘He has shown some great form during the Six Nations to win it. Albeit, one minute away from winning a Grand Slam. But to win the Championship, a lot had to do with his leadership in very trying situations. 

‘He would get my vote. He is a phenomenal rugby player. His longevity and the way he has managed himself over the last couple of years with the amount of games he had played.

‘He also has a lot of experience in terms of the Lions and that count’s for a lot. In terms of what is needed to bring the four nations together very quickly. 

‘I can assure you it will be a very weird tour to South Africa, that is not an easy place to tour. Very similar to what you get in New Zealand, they are mad on rugby.’  

Opting for experience over the future would see England lock Maro Itoje miss out on the captaincy after a forgettable Six Nations for the Eddie Jones’ Red Roses. 

Opting for experience over the future would see England lock Maro Itoje miss out on captain

Opting for experience over the future would see England lock Maro Itoje miss out on captain

Opting for experience over the future would see England lock Maro Itoje miss out on captain

‘He is a shoe-in to be selected in the Test team,’ Fitzpatrick said of Itoje, but warned: ‘the pressure of being captain, I can guarantee, is not a job you just step into.’

Another dilemma facing Gatland is deciding a pecking order for the highly-sought after No 10 shirt. 

Wales’ Dan Biggar, Scotland’s Finn Russell and England’s Owen Farrell are all in the picture, but Fitzpatrick – favouring experience again – believes Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton could have a key role to play in this summer’s tour.

On his first-choice fly-half, he said: ‘Johnny Sexton and Finn Russell; you’ve got two brilliant fly-half options there. It depends what type of game they play. 

‘In terms of Sexton, his management of the game might be a little better. But Finn Russell has been playing out of his skin. He had a great Six Nations. 

Fitzpatrick believes Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton (pictured) could have a key role to play

Fitzpatrick believes Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton (pictured) could have a key role to play

Fitzpatrick believes Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton (pictured) could have a key role to play

‘I always judge a 10 by how dominant they are and how they control the game. And both of these guys, if they are on their game, they control the game. Very Dan Carter-esque in terms of their kicking game, their management.

‘Finn Russell brings that excitement and a bit of the unknown. There may be a time in the series where they need an unknown factor to get the Springbox thinking.’

Standing in the way of Gatland’s second Lions Test triumph as head coach are Rassie Erasmus’ World champions. 

‘The big negative for the Springboks at the moment is that they haven’t played a Test since 2019. They will be underdone but you could say the same for the Lions, they haven’t played for four years either,’ Fitzpatrick added. 

‘What they (South Africa) brought to the World Cup was real size. Big men. And that’s the whole squad, not just the starting 15. We saw in the final, when they emptied the bench out; bigger men, bigger players. 

The former All Blacks star also warned of South Africa's physicality and Faf de Klerk (pictured)

The former All Blacks star also warned of South Africa's physicality and Faf de Klerk (pictured)

The former All Blacks star also warned of South Africa’s physicality and Faf de Klerk (pictured)

‘So that will be something the Lions will have to look at in terms of bulk, he (Gatland) is going to need big men himself and they have big men in the UK and Ireland. So I don’t see it as a major issue, but it’s whether the Lions can compete for 80 minutes with the pounding that they are going to take. 

‘That’s the Springboks’ biggest threat, the size and volume they can keep throwing at you.’

He also warned: ‘They have got a very good No 9 in Faf de Klerk, he is a player that dominates games.’

Before the Lions take the field against the world champions, they will begin their preparations with a warm-up match against Japan at Murrayfield before jetting off to South Africa.

The three-match Test series will begin on Saturday, July 24 with the final match being played on Saturday, August 7. 

Laureus Chairman Sean Fitzpatrick was speaking ahead of the 2021 Laureus World Sports Awards.

Nominees include seven-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton, NBA star LeBron James and Premier League champions Liverpool FC. 

The Winners will be revealed in Seville on May 6 in a ‘virtual’ format as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, please visit www.laureus.com


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bourbiza

Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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